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RP_School_TEST_SCORES_JENNIFER.JPGGov. Jerry Brown says he'll push forward with school-testing legislation despite U.S. Department of Education threats to withhold federal funds.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said California's request for a one-year reprieve from using STAR tests in math and English for the current school year is unacceptable and may force his department to "take action."

"No one wants to over-test, but if you are going to support all students' achievement, you need to know how all students are doing," Duncan said in a statement Monday night.

Assembly Bill 484 by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, was amended last week to allow all schools to opt in to computer-based assessments aligned to new curriculum standards called Common Core, while ending the 14-year-old STAR tests.

Jim Evans, a spokesman for Brown, said Tuesday in a statement, "We support the legislation."

"There is no reason to double-test students using outdated, ineffective standards disconnected from what's taught in the classroom," Evans added.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who is sponsoring Bonilla's bill, was in the Capitol on Tuesday talking to lawmakers about the importance of AB 484. The former legislator said it is a better investment to redirect the $25 million used to give the outdated STAR tests to instead allow more students to try new computer-based assessments.

"I'm disappointed someone in Washington would want to interfere in the legislative process in California," Torlakson told The Bee.

"We are all for accountability and measuring student achievement," he said. "This is a transition year."

Students have been given STAR tests each spring in English language arts, mathematics, science and history at certain grade levels. Parents receive the results of those tests, while state and federal accountability models aggregate the data for school and district results.

Schools serving low-income families are eligible for federal money to address achievement gaps, but have to meet benchmarks on state tests to continue to qualify under No Child Left Behind.

While making this spring's assessments optional, the bill would also suspend the annual release of data gathered from those tests.

Bonilla said Tuesday that there are no plans to change course, despite Duncan's threat to withhold funds.

"We'll be going ahead with the bill," said Bonilla, a former high school teacher. "We believe it's the best policy for California. "

Torlakson said he looks forward to making the case to the Obama administration "when the time comes" and that it would be a grave error to withhold needed funds from California's students.

The State Board of Education adopted Common Core standards in 2010, and schools are in various stages of implementing the nationally-used curriculum.

Teachers have expressed concern that the transition to new curriculum will be hampered by high-stakes tests aligned to previous standards.

PHOTO: A California Middle School teacher helps a student with a district test during class in Sacramento on Dec. 5, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

Editor's note: This post was updated at 1 p.m. to include an interview with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.


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